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What Causes Wrinkles? 5 Common Reasons

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/03/2021

Against your best wishes, there are many phases your skin goes through at different stages in life. 

In your tweens, it’s that blemish-free, baby-smooth texture you shouldn’t have taken for granted. 

You definitely have a story to tell about the pimples, acne and scarring from your teens — and a little later, wrinkles are set and ready to line your mouth, forehead, hands and more, with stretched out reminders that your 40s, 50s and 60s are finally looming.

Not that it needs an introduction, but wrinkles refer to those noticeable lines, folds and creases that appear on your skin. They are an expected result of aging. There are fine wrinkles — think laugh lines — these types of wrinkles are usually within the 1mm range, while coarse wrinkles are greater than 1 mm, and can be seen in deep frown lines.

Despite being popularly associated with aging, the appearance of wrinkles is also heavily dependent on other factors.

Here’s what you need to know about the causes of wrinkles, and the appropriate skincare routines to help reduce, and improve their appearance.

What causes wrinkles?

Wrinkles signal the progression of your skin as you age. However, environmental, genetic and lifestyle choices could also play a role in the appearance of wrinkles. Here’s how:

  1. Aging: a lot happens to your skin as you age. First up, your collagen supply decreases. Now if you didn’t know, collagen is a protein responsible for maintaining the skin’s structure. It is necessary for water retention, and helps the skin stay smooth, strong and firm.

    With decreased collagen, the bond between the dermis and epidermis is weakened, causing wrinkles. Your skin also produces less natural oils as you age, drying it out and encouraging the appearance of skin wrinkles.

  2. Exposure to ultraviolet light: all that fun in the sun? Tanning? They add up — sun exposure accounts for up to 80 percent of the visible signs of agingon the face, it is responsible for photoaging the skin. Ultraviolet rays break down the skin’s protective tissue, i.e the collagen and elastin fibers. Without this protection, the skin begins to sag and wrinkle.

  3. Repeated facial expressions: if you have a furrow in your brow as you’re reading this, you may want to relax a bit. Facial movements like squinting, frowning and smiling employ facial muscles. These muscles form a grove underneath the skin when used. With age, the skin is unable to return its original state when exerting these muscles. When this happens, crow’s feet, laugh lines and forehead creases are largely inevitable.

  4. Smoking: there are different ways smoking contributes to skin wrinkling: pursing the lips and squinting when taking a drag etch out fine lines on the face. Nicotine also causes the blood vessels to narrow, which can reduce oxygen supply to the skin. Smoking also prevents the production of collagen, and as an added bonus, the heat and the toxic fumes smoke produced may also damage the skin surface.

  5. Race: while wrinkling is an unavoidable part of the aging process, certain ethnicities may experience an earlier onset than others. It is widely accepted that fairer skin tones exhibit aging faster than darkly pigmented skin.

    Studies have shown that caucasians may experience faster skin aging and sagging when compared to black Africans. In Asians, the appearance of wrinkles may be dependent on ethnicity.

Now that we’ve checked out the general causes of wrinkles, let’s take a peek at specific body parts, and the ways we, and our environment may be contributing to their appearance. We’ll be asking a number of questions, these are:

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What causes forehead wrinkles?

Like most wrinkles, age, photoaging from sun exposure, smoking, race, etc, can contribute to the formation of forehead wrinkles. Likewise, when you elevate your eyebrows to express shock at the price of gas, or in confusion at how quick the time is passing, you do so through your frontalis muscle. That action pulls the skin of the forehead up. When this act is routinely done, it can encourage the formation of forehead wrinkles.

What causes wrinkles under the eye? 

A major culprit when it comes to the appearance of crow’s feet, is the act of smoking. One study observed that the association of smoking with crow’s feet was even stronger than any influences from outdoor exposure.

In addition, early research has shown that poor sleeping posture could contribute to the appearance of wrinkles under the eye. These, coupled with outdoor exposure, sun damage and other common causes of wrinkling, can lead to the appearance of crow’s feet.

What causes wrinkles around the mouth?

Mouth wrinkles are some of the most immediately noticeable wrinkles on the face. You may notice them in the form of marionette lines, laugh or lipstick lines, Like crow’s feet, smoking plays a major role in the formation of wrinkles around the mouth. The progression of the skin, and the loss of collagen as we age are also key contributors to the formation of mouth wrinkles.

What causes wrinkles around the neck?

The neck is a delicate part of the body, and has noticeable thinner skin that the rest of it. As you age, your outer skin decreases in thickness. With the neck already light in layers, further loss of elastin fibers and collagen will lead to noticeable wrinkles, folds and sagging.

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How to reduce the appearance of wrinkles

As we know, wrinkles are a normal, natural part of the aging process. However, their appearance, and the aging of the skin can be slowed by observing healthy skin care practices, and by making appropriate lifestyle decisions.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, here are ways to reduce the sign of aging, courtesy advice given by dermatologists:

  1. Wear sunscreen every day: with sun exposure being a leading cause of premature aging, routinely applying sunscreen could delay the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

    Sunscreen contains antioxidants that fight off free radicals produced from UV exposure. Use sunscreen that offers broad spectrum protection, these defend against UVA and UVB rays. Also ensure that your sunscreen has a minimum 30 SPF.

  2. Stay away from tanning: exposing yourself to the ultraviolet rays of the sun or a tanning bed could lead to wrinkles, an uneven complexion, and skin cancer.

  3. Moisturize: don’t skimp on the moisturizer. Moisturizing ensures that your skin traps water in. This helps to prevent the appearance of fine lines, and improves the youthful appearance of the skin.

  4. Use products as directed by a dermatology practitioner: be sure to seek expert advice before embarking on products or practices to reduce the signs of skin aging.

Other measures that may help in reducing the appearance of wrinkles include: applying retinoids, which improve collagen production; Botox®, which is useful in reducing the appearance of wrinkles and chemical peels, which are useful in reducing signs of aging in the skin.

Wrinkles may be caused by age, genes, the environment or lifestyle factors. They are a normal part of aging, and are largely inevitable as we progress. However, should you want to put them off until the very last moment, you can’t go wrong with observing good skincare practices, and making healthy lifestyle decisions for your skin.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.